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28 April 2008

Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? Part 3

For those just joining us, you can find Part 1 in this series by clicking here.

First, a little more background. To set the scene, I was raised here:

Yeppers, the buckle of the bible belt.

We didn't have Spring Break, back then it was known officially as Easter Break. We had prayer in school; and we had every Tom, Dick and Brother Bob Tilton trying to get us to go to their church on Sunday, with force, shame and cajoling if necessary.

And I went to more than a few churches too. Enough to form my opinion that a relationship with a higher power didn't need to occur under the supervision of a guy with slick hair, a crooked smile and big ol' donation basket. To each their own though; because on Sunday mornings between 9am and 12 noon, the streets and stores were always empty, so I guess every body got something out the experience.

Except for the beer stores and retail stores, they were all closed on Sunday too because of the infamous "Blue Law" created to limit people's choice to just church on any given Sunday. Interesting that all of that did so very little to engender folks into going to church more. So churches needed more sales tactics.

Back to the 10 Commandments

The 10 Commandments were reportedly scribed on Mt. Sinai by God and then given to Moses. They are held as the the guiding light for each follower to adhere to the teachings of their God. In no version of the 10 Commandments, be it Judaism, Christian, Samaritan, Islam and even the Atheist Moral Code, none of them require their followers to recruit other people into their religion. Each version is a one way dialogue between their God and the follower.

Later though, between the years of 1545 and 1563, there were around 250 Catholics who got together to add more policies and procedures to their followers to-do list. There were other sects within the Roman Catholic religion that wanted to contribute to these special conventions, but the leadership at the time kept switching the time and place to insure that only the chosen few were there to participate and that others in attendance were not allowed to vote. Some things never change; that sounds like a company I used to work for.

So these select folks from Spain and Italy decided a few other things, including the condemnation of other doctrines (Protestantism) and the defining of a few key Catholic doctrines.

Two telling and highly predictive decisions were cemented into Roman Catholic history after these pow wows:

  1. Church tradition - as defined by church leaders - was elevated to being an equal authority to the bible.
  2. Any Christian that sought to interpret the bible on their own was a heretic; the church's views on the bible were final.
The meetings closed with "Anathema to all heretics, anathema, anathema." Or more simply, curse the non-believers... So much for the connective tissue between religious beliefs, eh?


Fast forward to the fall of 1963. The Roman Catholics reconvened for what they called the Second Vatican Council. Among their goals this go around were to "renew the church" and to "create a dialogue with the modern world". You do see where this headed right? Their flock was already thinning and they needed to get them back - and then some - in order to sustain themselves. Enter the marketeers in robes.

One of the principle documents that came out of this council was called the Light of the Nations or formally, the "Lumen Gentium". It is here that the Roman Catholics went to the heart of the matter:

All human beings are called to belong to the Church...even with "those who have not yet received the Gospel," among whom Jews and Muslims are explicitly mentioned.

Oh my. So there it is.

Marching Orders

Roman Catholics by the billions, commanded by their leaders to go and bring others to the faith, er, their faith. In direct response to the church's desire to renew the church and create a dialogue with the modern world. It is important to note that nowhere in these new commandments - bound together with the original 10 Commandments which dictated whose God was in church - was any acknowledgement that these non-Roman Catholics actually wanted, needed or asked to be brought into their religion.

Seems that we don't have to avail ourselves or express a need to be recruited, they will come try to bring us to the faith whether we want to or not. After all, it is their renewal they are focused on, not ours. So, let the bible banging begin.

Bible Banging 101

Today, organized religion has become a sort of land grab of epic proportions. Each person in each community worldwide is subject to some type of sales pitch to convert you into the other person's religion. The more underprivileged the society, the more influence a religion can exert on a large scale via pilgrimages, missionary trips, church sponsored hospitals, etc. Kind of like Gatorade putting their name on giveaway sports bottles after a 10k race in hopes of increasing their visibility and gaining new paying customers. Marketing 101, yeah, we get it already.

So when acquiescent little missionaries with a gussied up media pass go to Afghanistan and get abducted while trying to convert a few thousand Muslims over to Christianity, excuse me if I don't feel much pity. (actions have reactions, dontchaknow) Patriots are dying over there in service to their country and people are voluntarily agitating the radical Islamist's by waving a bible at them? What were they thinking? It's called religious intolerance for a reason; and Islam sure doesn't have that market cornered.

All this at a time of religious confidence being at an all time low; only 45% of Christians are confident in their church according to a Gallup Poll. (A truckload of weenie wagging priests tend to do that, too). By comparison, when President Bush's approval rating was this low, many Americans started revolting and calling for his ouster, started displaying hateful and divisive bumper stickers and started spewing anti-Bush rhetoric on blogs, websites, talk shows, emails, etc. Hmmm.

If we disagree with the president of our country loud enough, we get on CNN. But perhaps if we disagree too loudly with our church, we suffer eternal damnation so everybody stays quiet? What's the difference?

Similar to the fight over cable customers and satellite customers, churches have had to devise innovative ways to fill their pews. Seems the threat of eternal damnation doesn't carry the same panache as it once did, no matter how loudly they bang away.

Market Research

One of the ways is to identify who they have in their flock versus who they don't have and want. Red Rover, Red Rover, Can Johnny Come Over? But as previously mentioned, respondents are notoriously unreliable when revealing their religious tendencies, leaving a rather ambiguous array of numbers that can be interpreted - or misinterpreted - in many ways.

The other way of counting heads is to identify a category of people that have "not yet accepted the faith" (uh, their faith, that is). If this is you, then congratulations, you are labelled as "Unchurched". Kind of like unfit, unclean, unconscionable or unseemly, but instead: unchurched. Leave it to the church to label the very people they need for a renewal with a negative, impersonal label. Perhaps 'prospective community member' was already taken? Duh.

At least by successfully labelling people as being without (UN-whatever), then they can more easily introduce what their new prospect NEEDS (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Oh those clever spinsters! Hey, those regular fries are "UNfulfilling", so you should "Biggie Size" in order to feel full and complete....

Maslow Revisited

Remember our chat on Maslow's hierarchy of needs in our acclaimed Mating Growl series? Besides the basics of air, a Frito pie, a Snapple and some boot knockin'... among our next most notable needs are security in our morals and a feeling of belonging. Oh yeah, and financial safety.

If you think large for a moment (and if you are still reading, congrats you have already proven yourself to be a big thinker!), you can easily identify the messages in a Volkswagen commercial, a Air Conditioning commercial or a Health Club commercial as hitting on the very same themes. It is after all, all marketing. And again, marketing is all about identifying the needs (real or perceived or created) of your prospect and emphasizing your proposed solution.

Show Me the Money

Some groups are a tad more obvious than others in selling us the solution that they think we need.

We all have a standard of living, be it personally or organizationally. And to maintain and build upon that standard of living, we must sustain our ability to pay for them. We work to live, not live to work, right?

If you work at McDonald's and want to keep your franchise open, or open a new one; then you must make and sell more hamburgers. If you and your family want to keep and even build onto your current home, then you will not only have to maintain a steady, mortgage-sustaining income, but also seek additional income growth opportunities. Surely no one thinks a church of worship is any different?

The classic funding source for churches has been a pay-for-playing system: if you participate in the church, then you agree to tithe 10% of your income to that church as a way to sustain it. And exactly like health clubs who sign you up to monthly contracts with auto payments and know that you'll never return after 3 months; it is the paying that builds the big fancy chapels and supports the pastor's way of life, not the playing.

Remember the 50% of the poll respondents that claim to go to church but don't? Well, they also claim to pay their tithe (give 10% of their income to their church), but don't.

A study conducted by Barna Research showed that 17% of Americans say that they tithe to their church. But only 3% actually do. Yikes.

The people are leaving, and so is the money. Now what?!?!

Okay Then, Gimme the Money

Prosperity Gospel teaches that God wants his followers to be rich both spiritually and materially (oh, Maslow should be so proud of those marketers). And that presumably starts with God's #1 followers, the 'ministers' who collect the money since they routinely live a opulent lifestyle complete with jets, beach houses, fancy cars and the occasional mistress (or drug addicted mister, as the case may be).

Taking money from your peeps is generally referred to as theft, so the church had to find a way to offer something in return for the money they collect. Hey, how about protection from the evils of debt and a guaranteed protection from eternal damnation? Get in on this deal while its still available!

This is Your Church on Drugs

The pharmaceutical companies have been using this tactic for years.....sell the disease, then push the cure. Brilliantly manipulative.

Perhaps that is why the US government has initiated a formal inquiry into some of these juggernaut houses of worship. Maybe they can claim it's a commission for their fundraising services for the Lord?

One of these money grubbing preachers, Kenny Copeland has refused to cooperate with the inquiry - which was started after numerous complaints from the public by the way - said "The enemy is not going to steal what the Lord has won through this ministry". Praise the Lord and pass the guacamole Kenny. You are proving my point.

The story goes that there was a priest, a rabbi and a prosperity gospel preacher at a bar discussing their collection plate disbursement methods. They all had rooms designated for such activity. The priest has a line drawn down the middle, he straddles the line and throws up the collection bucket...what lands on the left goes to God and what lands on the right goes to the priest. The rabbi has a circle, he stands in the center and throws up the offering, what lands in the center of the circle goes to God and what lands outside the circle goes to the rabbi.

The prosperity gospel preacher has a dot in the center of his designated collection distribution room. He throws up his bucket of collected riches ... and whatever God can catch, God can have.

Ouch. The next article in this series will address the rise of spirituality as a 'replacement' to organized religion, we'll discuss more tactics by the church to retain its members and finally, where we go from here.

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Talisman said...

Another wonderful installment. Keep up the good work.

Michael M. said...

Thanks Talisman! We're in the home stretch....thanks for staying tuned.

Dana said...

Well, you know I stayed *wink*

I have found the marketing of the church almost as disturbing as the church itself. For example, my family attends family counseling on a weekly basis. Guess what's sitting on the coffee table in the waiting room? That's right! Fliers for the mega church right down the road that promise family and lifestyle balance through the church. Sure, place your fliers in places where people are already seeking help/answers - they are far more likely to come visit you than those content with their lives, aren't they?

Michael M. said...

Right on Dana.

Kind of like those drop boxes for a "free gym membership". :)

I have a friend who is extremely active in a mega church whose marriage is breaking apart. So the church isn't much of an antidote I'm afraid.

Good luck with your family Dana. I hope it works out to everyone's satisfaction.

Tismee2 said...

This is the first installment I have read - only because I have been busy and not because I didn't want to of course).

We don't tend to have it thrown down our necks too much here apart from the odd doorstep visit from the two old biddies with Watchtower magazines (who are very entertaining) and the Latter Day Saints in Armani, who call round once or twice a year.

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